author: sara birrell | contributor
For nearly two years – since June 2017 – the faculty at the University of Regina have been performing their duties without a contract. And for nearly one year – since last April – they have been attempting, through negotiations between the University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA) and the university itself, to remedy that situation. On Friday Mar. 15, despite the assistance of a mediator, it was announced that the two parties had failed to come to an agreement, leaving open the possibility of a job action at a time when students are heading into the most stressful part of their academic term.
Dr. Tom McIntosh – who made it clear that he speaks only for himself as a professor and URFA member, and not as an URFA official or spokesperson – sees the challenges the bargaining committee has faced in attempting to get a fair contract as indicative of a wider problem with the way universities in general are run, not just the U of R. There’s a “kind of managerial culture taking hold in universities,” McIntosh said.
“University administration is a career path now,” something that he said has changed since the days when professors might spend some time as a Dean, then a VP, and then return to their role as a professor.
“I think that’s problematic,” said student Tanisha Khan. “If you actually start out somewhere in research or teaching, you’d have a healthy respect regarding how to run a university and how to treat your essential employees.”
McIntosh agreed that the rise of career administrators leads to a disconnect between faculty and administration.
“You have senior administrators trying to reduce the role of shared collegial governance – the idea that the administration and the faculty each have a shared role in in governing the institution and protecting its mission of research and teaching.”
“Every time you turn around, they want a new Associate VP or VP position.”
In a Mar. 15 tweet, Dr. Jes Battis expressed similar concerns.
“Admin at universities everywhere are trying to dismantle permanent employment and replace it with 100% casual labour.”
“They claim to be supporting students and precarious employees, but are in fact only committed to growing the managerial class by any means.” Dr. Marc Spooner – who also spoke only for himself – agreed, he said that some of the proposals that have been tabled by the administration show that those negotiating on behalf of the university are “no longer thinking like scholars, [they’ve] crossed into some kind of managerial role.”
Provost Thomas Chase, who represents the administration’s side of the bargaining, agreed that the number of out-of-scope administrative employees at the university has burgeoned at more than three times the rate of faculty since 2009, but said that it’s incorrect to assume that all of those employees are senior executives. “
It includes nearly all the staff in financial services, nearly all the staff in human resources. The reason they’re out-of-scope is that they handle confidential personnel information, payroll information, that kind of thing.” He added that out-of-scope employees also include the athletic coaches, presumably like the ones who lost their jobs when the wrestling and men’s volleyball programs were cut last year.
Although the administration has said that providing faculty with better compensation and a more stable employment model will end up costing students, in part because of what they call “the current fiscal reality of the province and the institution,” RPIRG’s Executive Director Krystal Lewis said it’s “important to challenge the austerity rhetoric,” of the university. “The numbers don’t add up,” Lewis said of the university’s claims. And unlike URSU, who issued a statement that was not endorsed by their entire executive and that appeared to accept the university’s assertions about the link between faculty compensation and tuition increases, Lewis said, “we don’t have to accept that framing.” McIntosh agreed. “It seems to me that they’ve decided they can’t fight the provincial government for more money, they can’t mount a public campaign to properly fund [post-secondary institutions] in this province, so they’ll take it out on the faculty.” For their part, URFA has publicly supported URSU in their campaign to freeze tuition.
Asked if he thinks the administration has been using their power to communicate directly with the university’s 15,000 students via campus webmail to frame the situation to their advantage, McIntosh said that when it’s all over, he’d “really like to see URFA take the University to the labour board over that messaging.” He isn’t the only one questioning the university’s communications with students during this process. Lewis said that one of the reasons RPIRG has invited URFA members to the Q&A they’re holding for students on Mar. 20 is to let students hear directly from faculty.
“The university has sent out two all student e-mails, that’s a mode of communication that the faculty association doesn’t have access to.”
The Provost disagreed with the idea that the university has been using their access to students’ inboxes to their advantage.
“The university needs to communicate with multiple constituencies about the situation. Communications to those stakeholder groups, whether it be faculty, staff, students, alumni and others is important.” He also disagrees with the assertion that the university has not been fighting the provincial government for more funding.
“We continually argue, every budget round, with ministry officials that investing in post-secondary is investing in the future.” But, he said, “We do so in a context that there are many other needs out there.”
He added that students should go to the administration’s collective bargaining update page and “examine the offer and determine for themselves whether that is a fair offer in the current economic climate.”
Spooner said he hopes students will do their own information-seeking and use the skills they’ve learned at university to make up their own minds about situation. “Truth is elusive, it’s important to get as many perspectives as you can and then you put those in concert with each other.”
Fourth-year English student Danielle Kuhn has been focusing more on her final semester of university than the bargaining that’s been going on between faculty and admin. But, she said, “The word ‘strike’ has got me paying attention.” McIntosh wants to reassure students who have been alarmed by the apparent breakdown in negotiations.
“There are still two days of bargaining scheduled,” he added that if those break down, URFA still has many steps they can take before a full-scale walk-out becomes necessary. “People shouldn’t assume that URFA would go straight away to a full-blown walk-out by all the faculty.”
Spooner, who warned that the situation is “serious” and has publicly sought potential headquarters for strikers, agreed. “We care deeply about students. We chose this profession for a reason.” He added that we’re all in this together. “Our working conditions are your learning conditions.”
McIntosh said he’s heartened by the support students have shown for the faculty. “We know that [students] are the ones caught in the middle of this,” adding that he urges students who want to find out more to seek out information from as many good sources as possible, including stopping by the tables URFA has set up during the noon hour and attending the Q&A that RPIRG has planned in the rainbow pit in the Education Building on Mar. 20. “You can’t make up your mind if you’re only getting half the information,” he said.
And if there is a strike? “I hope students show us their support.” He said he’s never heard of students being punished for not crossing picket lines during other strikes at other institutions, and adds that he would be “very interested to hear” if the Provost intends on punishing University of Regina students who choose as a matter of conscience not to cross a legal picket line. When posed the question, Chase said, “We’re not going to speculate about that at this time.”
Students who want to support the faculty, laboratory instructors, librarians, and sessionals who make their education possible have been urged to contact the Provost, the Board of Governors, and the Minister of Advanced Education, Tina Beaudry-Mellor. “Let the administration know they’ve gone down the wrong path,” McIntosh said.
“But [that] it isn’t too late to go back and do what’s right.”